Detroit Music Scene Making a Comeback?

The Detroit music scene has been getting national attention in recent weeks, ever since White Stripes frontman Jack White opened an office for his Third Man record label in the city’s Cass Corridor. The poverty-stricken neighborhood has been tagged for urban renewal, and will benefit from a soon-to-be-opened vinyl-pressing plant. The operation will use eight brand new presses to help alleviate the global backlog on record pressing. White grew up in Detroit, and the White Stripes was very much though of as a Detroit original when they were coming up in the early 2000s. White’s allegiance to the city has been questioned in recent years however, after White opened his Third Man Records label in Nashville. Signs of his relationship with Detroit thawing were evident earlier this year when Third Man signed a pair of promising Michigan artists, Timmy’s Organism and Wolf Eyes. To take a closer look at the significance of Third Man opening in Cass Corridor, and perhaps garner some insights as to where the Detroit scene is headed, NPR Music correspondent Eric Ducker spoke at length with Mike McGonigal, the music editor for the Detroit Metro Times. Check out a few choice excerpts from that chat below, or Click Here to read the interview in its entirety.

Eric Ducker: Prior to these new developments, how was Third Man perceived locally? The establishment of Third Man as a major entity in Nashville has often been portrayed as the sign of Jack White turning his back or washing his hands of Detroit.Mike McGonigal: I wasn’t here [when he left]. I saw the White Stripes in a small club in Seattle in 2000 opening, then never saw them again, as I don’t like huge venues, but I always liked their music. When I first visited here six years ago, there was clearly bad blood.ED: From both sides?MM: White had done a lot for other bands in Detroit — [putting together the compilation] Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit in 2001 being chief among them. He did get in that fight with the guy from Von Bondies. And for anyone to go from being a local talented dude to one of the biggest stars on the planet can never be easy. I think he freaked out on Detroit and had to leave. And I think a lot of Detroiters resented his success. I mean, if your music sounds really the same and you’re close to as good as this kid, and he gets huge and you’re still washing up the restaurant after it closes, it’s easy to make this one person the focus of your resentment. This is a dozen years ago, of course. But as soon as Third Man the label got big, [White] continued to work with Detroit artists and release their music. It all just took time.ED: So he had built up enough goodwill that people are willing to let bygones be bygones, especially if he’s helping the city and the arts community?MM: In terms of local feelings, when I heard that David Buick was one of the first people to get hired by Third Man Cass Corridor, I knew enough of the backstory to recognize that’s a huge thing in and of itself. Buick (yes, of the Detroit Buicks) had released White’s very first seven inches, and later they were both in that band the Go, but they had a falling out that was tough. I’m friends with Dave and never asked for specifics, but to me that [hiring] meant, “Oh, this guy is really mending fences and coming home,” even if he’s not physically moving here, as clearly he and his kids have a life in Nashville.